The grand architecture of some of the best homes that come under the ownership and the supervision of the National Trust has come under scrutiny due to the fact it has been unearthed that around a third of all stately homes that the National Trust own have some links to the slave trade. The heritage charity has announced changes in recent days that could transform the way it operates, and the report outlining the historic links to the slave trade is another potentially damaging and controversial note at a time where race and the history of the slave trade in the UK is under constant debate.
The National Trust has stated that it plans to keep most of the controversial objects that belong on its sites and that have links to the slave trade, as it does not want to “shut down debate”.
The news of how many stately homes actually have links to the slave trade has led to some members of the National Trust to take to social media and threaten to cancel their memberships unless the Trust stopped taking a ‘political’ stance. Around 300 of the 500 properties in the UK which come under National Trust ownership are historic country houses and stately homes. Alongside the many threats to cancel membership, the Trust did receive a large number of comments that praised the report and that honest, open debate and communication is the key to moving forward productively in the race debate we are all currently having in this country.
Some of the pieces of art that display racist undertones are to be removed from National Trust sites, however it remains to be seen which pieces they are or where they are located currently. The Trust has sought feedback from its member for quite some time, looking for answers about which pieces of art are found to be distressing or disrespectful, where full disclosure should be provided about links to the slave trade and where there is no need to change items or the way in which a property is managed. This seems to be a responsible way for the National Trust to manage the whole conversation, understanding that there is always going to be the voices of polarised opinion through social media channels.
The architecture of stately homes will rightfully continue to come under scrutiny, as should the history behind our monuments and buildings in towns and cities throughout the UK. There has been a shift to dialogue away from the protests of a few months ago, looking at how we can educate and inform in the future. This includes plaques around monuments and street names that have been taken from slave traders and the racist history of the country, rather than just removing these names and monuments completely as if nothing was there previously. This seems like the most sensible approach, to learn and move forward with history as our backdrop, rather than ignorance. The way that architects design and build alongside these environments is an interesting proposition for the future.